The original title for this article was “I’m a Little Cray Cray and that’s Okay!” However, upon further soul searching, I decided on a more polished title regarding mental health care.
Let’s start with a little secret; I have struggled with my mental health most of life. I take an antidepressant and I go to therapy. If I don’t keep up with emotional self-care, the consequences can be dire for my mental well-being. This is a hard pill to swallow when your life is focused on caring for others as a nurse, a leader, and a mother.
My New Normal
This might be a surprise to people who don’t know me very well. At work or social settings I tend to be chatty. I love to laugh, and am always down to tell a goofy story. Humor, laughter, and connection are my coping mechanisms. My inner “people pleaser” craves acceptance but also genuinely enjoys the opportunity to be a blessing to others.
On the inside, I struggle with pretty significant anxiety, panic, mild to severe depression, and a whole lot of insecurities. I have moments where leaving my comfort zone, such as my house, are more challenging than others. I cannot count how many times I have turned down plans to do something fun because I just couldn’t mentally get myself into a place to go.
This isn’t something that started in adulthood, but rather something that’s been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Recently, I was having a discussion with one of my very best girlfriends who is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I asked her if there were people in the world who didn’t suffer some baseline level of anxiety or depression. She said there is. I wish I could find one of these unicorn people and have the ability to step into their brain, if only for a moment, to feel what it is like.
My Downward Spiral
I have been on and off medication and in and out of therapy since I graduated from college, because the transition into adulthood was rough for me. When I began practicing as a nurse, I grappled with the often unbearable anxiety that came along with the responsibility of caring for other people (side note, I was probably a more attentive nurse because of it.) However, it wasn’t until this last year that I started actually taking mental health seriously.
I’m sure that a fair amount of people reading this have read the book “Girl Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis. That book really resonated with me after a particularly challenging year. One of the main themes of the book is reaching for your maximum potential, despite facing challenges and inner turmoil. The author also spoke about the amount of therapy that she went through to help heal her from emotional trauma, which ultimately helped her succeed in her goals.
When I read the book I was still very new to motherhood, but had also taken on new challenges at work with more responsibility. I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for the amount of change and new stress that would bring and within a few months I was a shell of my former self. From an outsiders perspective it probably appeared to be much different than what I felt on the inside. I felt awful because I “had it all.” Both my husband and I had promotions that year, we had a gorgeous one-year old daughter who was delighting in her first Christmas, a home, and a stable marriage. But I was absolutely miserable.
I felt like like I was failing at all of it and everything was crumbling around me.
My Breaking Point
There is a repetitive pattern that crops up when my anxiety and depression are at an all time high; I leave work, go home, sit on my bed with no pants on, and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while sobbing. In the last five years, I have had three separate instances of no-pants-bed-sandwich-crying. However, during the last episode I knew I had to do something to prevent this from never happening again because I had many people who depended on me to be well.
So I did something that was very fairly uncomfortable but had to be done; I booked an appointment with a therapist at my place of employment.
My employer’s employee assistance program offered free therapy sessions. However, the times and distance for me wasn’t convenient and I knew that I wasn’t going to attend unless it was easy to fit into my schedule. I am well aware that there is still some stigma associated seeking mental healthcare. To some, it can seem to be a sign of weakness and inability to self-cope with life’s stressors. But I am here to say that it is 100% the opposite of weakness; it is an act of bravery.
As someone who works in a leadership position, it wasn’t particularly easy for me to have my colleagues and staff know that I was attending therapy on my lunch break at work. But I knew that if I was going to be an authenticate version of myself, I couldn’t hide it. Also, I wanted to set an example to those around me that taking care of your mental health is something that is as normal as seeking out any other medical service.
My New Self-Care
Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about myself and I can proudly say that for the last 3 months or so, my anxiety and depression has been fairly well-controlled despite my normal day-to-day stressors (which are significant at times). What I learned in those sessions is that my brain tends to distort things a lot of the time and make them seem worse than they really are. Recognizing these feelings and thought patterns, understanding where they are coming from, and being able to gently set them aside is one of the most valuable gifts that I ever given myself.
I still have a lot to learn and will continue to learn for years to come. I know as a mom, nurse, wife, leader, and community member, this life will always present me with challenges, and I will need to continue to learn how to manage my feelings to keep myself well.
For this year, I am trying to focus on self-care. I’m learning more and more that self-care isn’t always the stereotypical bubble baths and other self-indulgences (although those are nice too). Often, it is more about day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute things that we do to keep ourselves going so that we can continue to care for others.
Girl, Clean Out Your Purse
I compare my mental health and self-care regimen to cleaning out my purse. If I take the time to clean out the receipts, throw away the wrappers, take out the extra diapers, and re-stock the tampons when they run out, I can easily pick up my purse in the morning and find what I need throughout the day. If I let junk pile up, I will be toting around a heavy bag of garbage. My shoulder and neck will hurt, the straps of my purse will start to fray from the weight, and I won’t be able to find anything when I need it. By then, my purse isn’t very helpful to anyone.
I recommend to any mom who is feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, struggling with feelings of low self-worth or inadequacy, or depressed to consider seeking out a licensed therapist or counselor to help you “clean out your purse.” You need to care for your mental health just as you would access regular medical or dental care. I am eternally grateful for the gift of time and energy that I have given to myself by spending time in therapy. By being a healthier me I will be able to give the best version of myself to my family. While I still will joke around that I am feeling a little “cray cray,” I know that I am 100% normal.
This is dedicated to my therapist and co-worker down the hall, Sue. You are the real hero here.
If you would like more information about Mental Health and Community Resources in the Fargo-Moorhead area, please visit www.myfirstlink.org or call Firstlink at 2-1-1 or 701-235-7335 (SEEK). FirstLink is a free, confidential service available to anyone for listening and support and referrals to local resources and crisis intervention.